An Engineering Student’s Lament
The world is full of patterns. As an engineering student, I’m expected to be able to see these patterns and investigate accordingly. Some are simple to recognize: every day the sun rises. You open your eyes, roll out of bed (eventually), and go to the bathroom. On weekdays, you will try to eat breakfast before morning classes, but sometimes you won’t have time. You will go to class where you will struggle to pay attention to your professor. Every once in a while you will have a test, where you could have gotten an A if you had studied just a little more.
Sometimes, we get so wrapped up carrying out these patterns that at times it can feel like we’re just going through the motions. The academic rigor associated with being an engineering student is legendary. I have seen it turn once-great partiers into lifeless corpses by junior year. It’s easy to forget why it is that you became an engineer in the first place.
I began feeling this way towards the middle of this semester, my second year in engineering, and it wasn’t the first time. I had just gotten back from my first job fair, which had me doubting I even was worthy of school in the first place. I was seriously starting to regret ever making the switch from majoring in Economics. It didn’t help matters that my close group of friends is almost uniformly enrolled in the College of Communications. Not knocking their life choices, but their course load is not as strenuous; they compensate by putting more effort into going out.
My mom thought I was depressed; I thought maybe I needed some Adderall. Since the waiting list to see a doctor was booked months in advance, my always-helpful mom suggest I might get more involved around campus, whatever that means. As my roomate (the esteemed @Tyler_Hoy) was already a writer for this lovely establishment, Onward State was the obvious choice.
The next obstacle was figuring out what it was I was going to write about. There were enough Entertainment writers, Student Life as well. So I thought, “Hey, I like science. I can write about that”. It also turns out that there are a half a dozen open lectures taking place on a weekly basis here at Penn State. Wouldn’t you know it, there is more to this school than football and drinking. After a trial run, my fate was sealed. Ironically, my solution to an overdose of school was to supplement it with more learning and writing. Not exactly the “head west and snowboard” plan, but it seems to be going alright.
So far I have attended four lectures. Besides just a nice chunk of space on the ol’ résumé, it’s refreshing to be able to go in without any expectations. It’s surprisingly liberating to be motivated by nothing but a desire to learn and to share the experience. Going to these speeches has allowed a freedom of thought that engineering and science classrooms do not offer. But the peculiar thing is, these researchers are all incredibly creative people. They have to be creative in order to imagine solutions to problems that the other 99% of the world can’t even fully comprehend.
The type of engineer or scientist who gives lectures to people on their research, lectures that they know will most likely be poorly attended, aren’t doing it for the fame or money. The people taking time out of their day for the public sharing of knowledge are doing so because they get pleasure from educating others. It makes them happy. These speakers, whether its on topics of genetics, biomechanics, physics, or materials science, all have in common the fact that they chose to investigate the true nature of the patterns they observe to the absolute physical limit. Having done that and deciding it wasn’t enough, they also valiantly try (and do sometimes fail) at making their work understandable to anybody interested.
There’s under a month left of school, meaning you probably need to start studying for finals soon. Not because you want to, but because you have to. With that in mind, don’t be afraid to break the cycle a little bit. Remember that school is not the most important thing about your education, that it is something more fundamental than a GPA. You became an engineer because you understand the importance of patterns. Take a day off. Play a video game, or attend a seminar.
Have you ever seen a Nobel Prize winner in person? On April 19th, you have that chance. Last year’s co-recipient Adam Reiss will be giving a talk on the topics of Supernovae and the Discovery of the Accelerating Universe. At least part of every person is fascinated by the enormity of the universe. You know it’s unimaginably big, but did you also know it’s expanding, and at an accelerating rate? Come expand your mind at the HUB Auditorium, 2 p.m. Thursday, April 19th. You might just learn something. And if you do feel so compelled, write whatever you want, however you want, and send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll read it. Who knows, we could be coworkers one day.